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The rules for social media are constantly changing and it can be dizzying to try and keep up, especially when you’re also launching a business or growing your brand. Most entrepreneurs and brand managers don’t have the time available to dedicate to doing hashtag research right; you’ve got product to manage, suppliers to coordinate, and a thousand other tasks demanding your attention.

It requires dedicating a lot of time and resources to stay on top of the latest social media changes to harness all the potential for your brand. These are lessons and insights I’ve learned that you need to know about using hashtags on Instagram.

The new rules for Instagram hashtags:

Rule 1

If in doubt, hashtags are out 🙅

If hashtag research is overwhelming, or you don’t have enough time to do it right (which might be the case if you’re reading this) then the answer is simple: don’t use hashtags.

While a single well-planned hashtag can increase engagement by over 12% (source), poorly using hashtags will negatively impact its performance. Irrelevant or spammy hashtags will do more harm than good, especially if you are unknowingly using banned hashtags (see rule #2 below). So unless you can dedicate time to finding the right hashtags for each post and your audience, it’s better to post without them.

Hashtag research is time-consuming. If you’re looking for the ‘quick win’ hashtag hack: this is it. No need to read any further, just follow this one tip and forget hashtags altogether (you’re welcome!). If you want to learn more or have the time to invest, read on.

Bonus Tip 1

If you don’t have time for hashtags, you should prioritize the following (even if you are using hashtags, you should complete these):

  1. Include a relevant location on your post
  2. Add detailed alt text description to your post
    (When composing your post, tap ‘Advanced settings’, scroll down and tap ‘Write alt text’)

To take your Instagram strategy even further, you should look beyond simply posts and hashtags. The latest information on the Instagram algorithm shows that other factors that are more important for growth and organic reach:

  • Use new features like Instagram Stories, and especially the latest features like Instagram Reels. Early adopters of new features have are always been rewarded by the platform.
  • Post on your account consistently (and as regularly as possible).
    Instagram growth-hack experts claim that posting at least one post per day, stories three times per day and at least one reel per week is recommended for optimal growth. That is a lot! If you can’t post that much, don’t worry. Post as regularly as you can sustainably maintain long-term. Quality over quantity.
Rule 2

Banned hashtags 🚫

Yes, there are banned hashtags on Instagram – and you’re probably using them. Using banned hashtags (also called ‘shadowbanned’ hashtags) will lead to your content being and de-prioritized by the algorithm. If you are using any of these hashtags regularly it will make it hard for you to reach your audience.

Run your hashtags through a tool like Display Purposes or IQHashtags before posting to ensure you aren’t using any banned hashtags. You’ll be surprised what hashtags are banned. Some examples I have unknowingly used in the past include:

  • #rainonme
  • #happythanksgiving
  • #instamood
  • #uidesigner

The social landscape and algorithms are changing every day. Just because a hashtag worked today, doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. If you’re investing time in hashtag research, make sure you’re checking for banned hashtags so you’re not undoing all of your hard work.

Rule 3

More isn’t more 📉

Instagram allows you to have up to 30 hashtags per post – but, do not use all 30! Just like keyword stuffing for SEO in the early 00s, the algorithm will flag this behaviour as spammy. Stop doing it!

How many hashtags should you use?

Some sources like to claim a golden number of hashtags is what you should use on a post (11 is the latest magic number). But remember: if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. As we know in marketing, social and design there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Only use the hashtags that will give you value and engagement. If that means using one, then use one. If that means more, then use more. Test, experiment, and learn what works for your goals.

I am currently experimenting with using 4-9 hashtags on my profile, with a less is more approach (follow me on Twitter for updates and results). And remember, every platform is different so don’t think nine hashtags are appropriate for Twitter or TikTok.

Bonus Tip 2

Make sure you are including hashtags on your Instagram stories too! Here Instagram limits the number of hashtags to 10 – but again, follow the ‘less is more’ principle.

Rule 4

Like, whatever 💅

Likes don’t matter! Likes are a vanity metric and have become irrelevant in helping you grow. Saves and shares are far greater indicators to the algorithm that your content is quality and should be served to more users.

Likes can indicate that a hashtag is working — but is that all you care about? Consider why your brand is on Instagram. If you’re not getting new leads, generating more sales, or having people contact you — what’s the point? Is there a need for you to invest time on hashtags and Instagram (or any social platform) if your business is not benefiting from it? Every hashtag and every minute you invest should align with your business goals.

Bonus Tip 3

Include a call-to-action in the visual (or in the caption) to remind your audience to save or share your content. You can even include a description of how to do it if your audience isn’t savvy on social.

Rule 5

Know your #place 🐜

If your account has less than 500 followers and posting to a hashtag with 100K+ posts, you’re not likely to appear in the top posts for that hashtag. Accounts with more followers (we’re talking 10k+ followers) are far more likely to take the top spots in those hashtags.

Your content isn’t likely to be discovered if it is 200th on the list for that hashtag. If you’re starting out and trying to grow your account, find more niche and less popular hashtags. This will give you a greater chance to show up in the ‘top’ section for that hashtag. Once you have 5-10k followers, you can start to look at more popular hashtags.

Bonus Tip 4

Search each hashtag to see see how many posts there are with that hashtag.

Rule 6

Don’t #ghost 👻

Getting value from hashtags isn’t about dropping them at the end of your post caption and calling it a day. Hashtags are about discovery, but that doesn’t mean one-way discovery. You should be engaging with others using those hashtags too.

Bonus Tip 5

Follow the hashtag (yes, you can follow hashtags). This will make it easier to like, comment on, save and share other posts with this hashtag.

Search the hashtag in the Explore tab, and on the hashtag page – tap the follow button:

Rule 7

What happens on IG stays on IG 🎰

Found a hashtag your audience is using on Instagram? Great! But that doesn’t mean it translates to a useful hashtag on TikTok, Twitter – or any other platform.

Yes, there are overlaps. However, if you are going to use the same hashtag, ensure it is relevant on that platform (a simple yet hilarious example being the hashtag #accountant on TikTok).

That’s a wrap on my hashtag insights. If you found this article useful, give it a share:

Cover Image & GIFs: New Rules – Dua Lipa